Sports Medicine Physicians: Not Just For Athletes
May 17, 2021
You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to see a sports medicine doctor. You don’t have to be an athlete at all.
Primary care sports medicine physicians see all kinds of patients with all sorts of ailments. Most patients do not play competitive sports, but deal with acute or chronic injuries from exercise, training or even from their jobs.
Whether you’re hurting from a repetitive stress injury at work or an elbow injury from a fall on the ice, sports medicine programs use the same diagnostic tools and non-operative treatments they use with pro athletes to help the body heal.
“Even musicians get sprains and strains doing what they love,” says Robert Flannery, MD, a University Hospitals sports medicine specialist. “Really, sports are too limiting to describe what we do. It’s anything to do with activity and movement.”
Commonly treated ailments involve knees, backs, shoulders, legs and hips – pretty much all the moving body parts.
Most injuries don’t require surgery. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, most patients can return to activity at 100 percent. Advances in injectable medications and diagnostic ultrasound have made non-surgical treatments much more effective.
Sports medicine doctors identify and repair injured muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons with injections of steroids and other therapies such as platelet-rich plasma, which helps repairs cells. Ultrasound imaging allows doctors to inject therapeutics to the precise location of the injury, and track progress of the repair. The treatments are used for athletes and non-athletes alike.
While most patients come through the door because they are hurt, sports medicine programs also work with patients on injury prevention, nutrition and performance enhancement. Psychological aspects of injury and rehabilitation are also an important part of the program, Dr. Flannery says.
“Probably the most underappreciated aspect of injuries has to do with mental health,” he says.
This is especially true among teens.
“If you talk to an athlete and ask them to describe themselves, one of the first things out of their mouths is ‘I’m a football player… I’m a soccer player... I run track.’ That’s part of their identity. That’s their group, their peers. If they’re injured and can’t play, it takes away some of their identity and purpose.”
No matter the age, negative emotions such as anxiety and depression not only increase injury risks, but also can get in the way of rehabilitation, Dr. Flannery says. Sports medicine programs will refer patients to mental health therapists when needed.
The goal is to get patients moving again after an injury, Dr. Flannery says.
“I think we’re seeing that movement is important, even while you are recovering from surgery, concussion or another injury,” he says. “The body wants to be in motion. We believe exercise is medicine, and that’s what we try to push.”
University Hospitals Sports Medicine takes a multidisciplinary approach that integrates care from medical experts who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment for athletes of all ages and abilities. Our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other healthcare professionals ensure the very best in health and medical care for athletes. Learn more about sports medicine and find a physician for you.